While not a total dog, the golden years drama “Darling Companion” could be called a shaggy if agreeable mutt that doesn't know when it's outstayed its welcome.
The first movie from four-time Oscar nominee Lawrence Kasdan since his largely forgotten 2003 Stephen King adaptation “Dreamcatcher,” “Darling Companion” probably would have worked better as a short film, given how overlong, underplotted and forgettable it is as a 103-minute feature.
Lawrence is best known for co-writing the iconic action films “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” as well as for co-penning and directing the Baby Boomer dramas “The Big Chill” and “Grand Canyon.” His latest, co-written with his wife, Meg Kasdan, definitely falls into the latter category, with its similar formula of using stressful circumstances to bring together family and friends so they can hash out their dysfunctions.
Oscar winner Diane Keaton stars as Beth, a well-heeled, emotionally heightened empty nester struggling to find her identity now that her child-rearing years are coming to an end. After dropping her older daughter and precious grandson off at the airport, she and younger daughter Grace (Elisabeth Moss) rescue a mistreated, abandoned dog on the side of the highway.
The handsome veterinarian (Jay Ali) they seek out to check the stray encourages them to keep the aging pooch, since the chances he will be adopted from an animal shelter are slim. Beth agrees, dubbing the dog Freeway and taking him in over the objections of her husband, Joseph (Kasdan regular and fellow Oscar winner Kevin Kline), an aloof and prickly spine surgeon.
A year later, Grace and the vet are getting married at her parents' luxury vacation cabin in the Rocky Mountains, and Freeway is not only part of the family but also part of the ceremony.
After the wedding, Joseph takes the dog for a leash-free walk in the woods, and while the workaholic doctor is busy nattering on his cell phone, the canine chases after a deer and doesn't come back.
Beth is furious and heartbroken that Freeway has gone missing on her husband's watch, and she refuses to go home until they find the dog.
Also sticking around for the search are Joseph's nephew and fellow surgeon Bryan (Mark Duplass), who is on his way to becoming as spiky as his uncle; Bryan's long-single mother Penny (two-time Academy Award winner Dianne Wiest), a former journalist who just took a buyout and is looking for a fresh start; and Penny's new boyfriend Russell (Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins), a likeable lug who wants to use Penny's buyout to start an authentic English pub in Omaha, Neb.
The cabin's beautiful, longtime keeper Carmen (Ayelet Zurer) joins in the dog hunt, surprising her employers with the revelation that she is a psychic who comes from a long line of gypsies and can tap into the animal spirit world. She continually gives the others insights into where Freeway might have wandered, but most of her tips lead the family on a wild goose chase rather than actually helping to find the dog.
Oscar nominee Sam Shepard plays a small role as the kind but curmudgeonly sheriff who ostensibly helps with the search but mostly complains about his high cholesterol, kidney stones and upcoming colonoscopy.
Tromping through the rainy forest, getting lost in the mountains, fleeing a psychotic hermit and embarking on other canine-hunting misadventures, the characters get plenty of opportunities to suss out their dysfunctions.
The issues they face — coping with advancing age, maintaining long-term relationships and choosing hope over cynicism — are relatable, and the top-notch cast overachieves given the material just doesn't have enough drama to sustain the film.
As with his 2005 romantic comedy “French Kiss,” Kasdan offsets his latest movie's storytelling deficiencies with lingering shots of the gorgeous scenery, this time spotlighting the majestic Rockies and their towering forests.
After awhile, though, there's only so many shots of beautiful vistas and charming doggies before viewers start wishing for a new cinematic companion, like maybe a nice Travel Channel documentary or the Westminster dog show.
— Brandy McDonnell
Starring: Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, Dianne Wiest, Richard Jenkins, Mark Duplass. (Some sexual content including references, and language)